Plastics: frequently asked questions

What types of plastic can be recycled?

This depends on where you live, see our guide for each district council for more information and advice.

How can I recycle plastic bottles, pots, tubs and trays?

See our guide for each district council for more information and advice depending on where you live, and view our top tips for presenting plastics for collection.

What happens to plastic once it's collected?

Local councils will have information on how your plastic is recycled where you are. In the meantime, why not watch this video for more general guidance on what happens to your plastic.

How is plastic recycled?

Plastics are sorted by polymer type, shredded, washed, melted, pelletised, and made into new products.

It is a two-stage process:

  • Sorting is mainly done automatically with a manual sort to ensure all contaminants have been removed.
  • Once sorted and cleaned, plastic can either be shredded into flakes or melt processed to form pellets before finally being moulded into new products.

Why can't I recycle black plastics?

When plastic packaging goes into the recycling it is sorted into different types of plastics which are then baled up ready for reprocessing. Special laser technology is used to do this sorting. Black plastic used to be difficult for lasers to see and therefore it was generally not sorted for recycling.

However a new special type of black plastic which can be detected by lasers is now being used and most black plastic packaging can be recycled.

As part of the UK Plastics Pact retailers, brands and the recycling industry are working to ensure all plastic packaging will be reusable, recyclable or compostable.

The best thing to do is to check with your local authority to be sure what they are asking local residents to do with black plastic.

Can I recycle film and carrier bags?

For those who can't recycle plastic film at home, some types of plastic films can be recycled at carrier bag collection points at the larger stores of most major supermarkets including Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury’s. Check if your local store recycles plastic bags.

All items should be clean and free of food. Tear off sticky labels where possible. As a general rule, if you can stretch the film then it can be recycled.

Compostable and biodegradable bags are not designed to be recycled and if they enter the recycling system can potentially cause quality issues in the recycled material.

Is plastic packaging biodegradable / compostable?

Just because a plastic is made from bio-based sources, does not automatically mean it will biodegrade. Only non-biodegradable plastic can be recycled.

Some compostable plastics can also be home composted and should be clearly labelled if this is the case. Compostable plastics should not go in with your dry recycling as they cannot be recycled in the same way as non-biodegradable plastic.

Biodegradable plastics also cannot be recycled in the same way as non-biodegradable plastics. Biodegradable packaging should be clearly labelled as such and should not go in with your dry recycling.

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